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How to activate biochar?

How to activate biochar?

Before adding biochar to your soil, we highly recommend activating it. 

What is biochar activation? 

Biochar activation is the process of priming biochar with essential plant nutrients, microbes and moisture.

Why do I need to activate biochar?

Unactivated biochar is like a sponge. It will suck-up and moisture and nutrients that it comes into contact with. If you add biochar to soil as-is (unactivated) it will suck-up the moisture and nutrients that are already in the soil, making less available to any plants living in the soil, and likely stunting their growth (short term*).

*Eventually the right microbial relationships will form with the biochar and soil, making the moisture and nutrients available to the plants longterm, but this can take multiple seasons, and most people do not want to wait that long.

How do I activate biochar?

The most common ways to activate your biochar are:

  • Co-composting (Best results, if you have the time)
  • Mixing with compost (Also great results takes about 2 weeks)
  • Mixing with a nutrient rich liquid. (Takes 24 hours but can be expensive)

Activating biochar by co-composting

  1. Add about 10% biochar by volume when arranging your compost pile. You'll want to distribute the biochar as best you can to maximize effect. 
  2. Turn your compost pile over every few days to maximize oxidation and micro-organismal activity. (Not 100% necessary, but recommended)
  3. Once your compost is mature, your biochar/compost mixture is ready for application to your soil.

In addition to increasing the microbial populations and plant available nitrogen of your compost, the biochar should decrease the time it take for your compost to mature by up to 20%.

Activate biochar with mature compost

If you don't have a compost pile, or need biochar enhanced compost sooner than a few months, then you can also activate your biochar with mature compost very effectively. Any high quality compost will work for this, but for best results we recommend using earth worm castings or manure compost. 

  1. Add at least 1 part biochar and 2 part compost ratio into a barrel or large container. We use 1:3 approx. in our Nutrient Blend. 
  2. Add enough water to just cover the mixture. If you were to squeeze it in your hand, you want water to come out. 
  3. Mix it around uniformly.
  4. Let sit for at least 14 days. 
  5. Mixture is ready to mix with your soil.

Your mixture is now ready to apply to your garden or lawn. You'll want to aim for between a 5-10% biochar soil composition so apply according to this principle. Mix into the root zone to maximize the benefits.

Activate biochar with nutrient rich liquid

Biochar can also be activated with liquids rich in nutrients and microbes. Their are many options for this: compost tea, bokashi tea, liquid kelp fertilizer ... anything with good concentrations of Nitrogen, Phosphorous or Potassium (NPK). We recommend organic liquids as they will inoculate your biochar with microbes as well, but liquids made from synthetic fertilizers will work too (and at least you'll reduce leaching). 

  1. Add 1 part biochar and 1 part nutrient liquid by volume (50/50 mix). We recommend the nutrient solution to be at least 2 times more concentrated than what you would apply directly to your garden or lawn.
  2. Let sit for at least 48 hours. 
  3. Mixture is ready to apply to soil.

This should provide you with a slow release fertilizer for your soil. The biochar will release the nutrients to your plants as they need them and become a longterm incubator of microbial activity. 

Happy biochar activating!

Feel free to email us at if you have any questions at all.